Whose Names Appear in Credit Card Ads?
By Reed Tucker

(FORTUNE Magazine) – "Do you know me?" American Express asks in its long- running ad campaign. As for the mysterious names that appear on the sample cards in the advertisements, the answer is "Heck, no." So who exactly are these people whose names have been immortalized in plastic, and how did they get chosen?

"We do actually use real people," says Gail Wasserman, American Express' vice president of public affairs. The person is usually an employee of the company, and is paid a small fee--protection in case someone with the same name bellyaches about privacy infringement. And their name graces the dummy card forever.

The ads for AmEx's new Blue cards bear the name LA Webb, shorthand for Lisa Webb, who was the project leader on the card's design. "It was a very nice honor," she says. (One for the eerie coincidence file: Discover Card also uses the name Webb: not LA, but JL, wife of the creative director at Discover's ad agency. Visa's official cardholder is John H. Bennett, a former executive who was given the honor as a retirement gift. MasterCard doesn't use dummy cards.)

For the use of her name, AmEx's Webb was paid $1 (which she blew on a cup of coffee), but her moniker's appearance in the ads has prompted old acquaintances and friends to get back in touch. "I've been getting a lot of calls from people I've been out of contact with for years who call me up and say, 'By any chance is that your name on the card?' " Webb, who lives in Connecticut, sees the Blue ads at the train station each morning on her way to work. "It's kind of funny to see your name there, and all the other people on the platform have no idea there's any connection," she says. As for someone stealing her account, Webb has no worries: The number is made up.

AmEx insists it doles out the honor to anyone who deserves it. But it helps to have a mellifluous name like Webb, as opposed to a cacophonous one with difficult consonant combinations. Poor Calista Flockhart.

--Reed Tucker